Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas says, “I belong on the women’s team”

Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas is fighting back critics who say she doesn’t belong in the pool with other women, declaring, “I’m not a man.”

The 22-year-old University of Pennsylvania swimmer Waves are making waves amid a national debate on whether transgender athletes can compete against biological women, said there is no middle ground in the controversy as she sees it.

“The very simple answer is that I’m not a man,” she said said Sports Illustrated in an exclusive interview posted online on Thursday.

“I’m a woman, so I belong on the women’s team. Trans people deserve the same respect that every other athlete gets.”

Thomas, an economist originally from Texas, said she began questioning her identity when she was at Westlake High School in Austin.

“I’m a woman, so I belong on the women’s team,” Lia Thomas told Sports Illustrated.

“I felt absent, separate from my body,” Thomas recalled during a series of interviews with the magazine in January, her first public comments since sit down for a podcast in December with SwimSwam.

Thomas later told her brother between her freshman and sophomore years at Penn, where she once dated a trans mentor on campus. She then informed her parents, who supported her transition.

“We will do whatever we have to do to make Lia a part of this family,” Bob, Thomas’ father, told Sports Illustrated. “We didn’t want to lose her.”

Thomas started hormone replacement therapy in May 2019.
Lia Thomas started hormone replacement therapy in May 2019.
Chris Szagola

Despite this, Thomas’s gender dysphoria did not intensify until during her sophomore year with Penn, although she had come out to her family.

“I was very depressed,” she said, which resulted in less pool time. “I got to the point where I couldn’t go to school anymore. I missed class. My sleep pattern was totally messed up. Some days I couldn’t get out of bed. I knew in that moment that I needed something to address that.”

Thomas, who still hadn’t come out to her Penn coaches and teammates, later began hormone replacement therapy in May 2019 but knew it could come at a high cost, she said.

Thomas poses on the podium after winning the 100 yard freestyle at the 2022 Ivy League Women's Swimming and Diving Championships.
Thomas poses on the podium after winning the 100 yard freestyle at the 2022 Ivy League Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships.
Kathryn Riley

“I did HRT because I knew and accepted that I might not swim anymore,” she said. “I was just trying to live my life.”

Thomas “felt a lot better and healthier pretty quickly” when he started hormone replacement therapy. Then, between her sophomore year and her freshman year, she realized she wanted to swim with other women in Penn.

Thomas eventually competed against men in her junior year and first donned a women’s suit in the 1,000-yard freestyle against Columbia male swimmers in November 2019.

Thomas, previously known as Will, began identifying herself as Lia Catherine Thomas on New Year’s Eve 2020 after her mother came up with the name.

“It’s a milestone in a very long transition where you feel like I am and I’m going to live that,” Thomas told Sports Illustrated. “In a way it was kind of a rebirth, for the first time in my life I felt fully connected to my name and who I am and living who I am. I’m Lia.”

After taking a year off to keep her final season intact, Thomas began swimming with Penn again in the summer of 2021 — almost two years after starting hormone replacement therapy.

She dominated a November 2021 meet and set NCAA season bests in the 200-yard freestyle and 500-yard freestyle. Its rapid pace has also continued recently, Set two new pool records earlier this month at the Ivy League championships while taking home two titles.

Thomas reacts after her team won the 400 yard freestyle relay at the February 19 competition.
Thomas celebrates after her team won the 400 yard freestyle relay at the February 19 competition.
Kathryn Riley

“I was reinvigorated,” Thomas said. “I’ve been swimming for 17 years, but since [only] For a short part of that time I felt fully engaged. After coming and being my authentic self, I could really start to see a future. Before I came out, I couldn’t imagine a future.”

However, not everyone supported Thomas’ trip, including some members of her own team. Sixteen members of Penn’s women’s team said she should be disqualified from the competition after she swam with other men at school for three years and claimed she had an “unfair biological advantage”.

Thomas was allowed to compete this season because she had been on testosterone suppression treatment for more than a year. she was eligible to compete in that year’s Ivy League championships Earlier this month, as eligibility requirements are now left to individual sports.

Thomas, who applied to law school, now has her sights set on representing Team USA at the Paris 2024 Olympics. But first, she will swim in the NCAA Women’s Division I Swimming and Diving Championships beginning March 16 in Atlanta, where she will be the favorite to win the 200- and 500-yard freestyle events.

“I don’t know exactly what the future of my swimming will be after this year, but I would love to continue,” Thomas told Sports Illustrated. “I want to swim and compete like I am.”

“I want to swim and compete like I am,” Thomas said.
Kathryn Riley

But Thomas realizes that she’s not just swimming against the current for herself.

“I just want to show trans kids and younger trans athletes that they are not alone,” she said. “They don’t have to choose between who they are and the sport they love.” Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas says, “I belong on the women’s team”


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